An unexpected cause of pain: being short

May 19, 2018

Of all the things in life that can cause pain, you would never think of being short as one of them, would you? I’m not talking about being short due to some genetic condition or illness. I just mean, you know, short.

My mother is 5’2″. My father’s mother was 5’3″ before she shrunk in her later years. I was expected to be at least my mother’s height, but then scoliosis caused me to stop getting taller as my spine compressed a bit, and I ended up only being 5’1″. Ok, almost. Hey, my driver’s license says 5’1″ and I’m sticking with it!

Two weeks ago I was diagnosed with arthritis in the joint of the big toe on my right foot. Since that toe is essential for walking, and now it’s painful, this isn’t good. And I’m only in my 30s, so I need it to work for a long time to come. This sucks.

There’s a long list of things my doctor says I can no longer do: run, jump, sprint, stand on my toes, wear high heels….. hold on! Back up! Not stand on my toes?!?

The rest of those are no problem at all, but I stand on my toes All. The. Time!

In these past 2 weeks, and in the 2 months of pain leading up to the diagnosis, I realized that I stand on my toes even more than I had thought. I do this for things that you would never guess (unless you’re a fellow short person.) Some of it isn’t too surprising: reaching items on the top shelf in the grocery store. Looking through a clothes rack that’s too high (why do stores put them so high up?!) But then there are the things you wouldn’t guess, like reaching the shelves in my kitchen cabinets and getting things off a shelf in my closet.

And then there are the things that have been shocking my doctors and friends as I mention them. Things like sitting on a bus or subway, where I’m not “standing” on my toes, but my toes are in that same position just so that they can touch the floor. Ditto sitting on a toilet. This is true at home, where I keep a step stool next to the toilet to rest my feet on. I began doing that years ago for comfort, so that I could actually sit without leaning far forward to put my feet down, during the hours that I would be on the toilet dealing with diarrhea and nausea (thank goodness that’s mostly improved!) It’s so much worse on public toilets, which tend to be higher. When I drive, I mostly press the pedals with my toes. After all, it’s hard to get my foot flat on the pedal, thanks to my short legs.

Then there are chairs and couches. When I was couch shopping, I had to try a lot of couches before I found one where my knees could bend. Most are so deep, my knees don’t reach to the end of the couch. But even so, my feet don’t entirely touch the floor unless I put a pillow behind my back, which isn’t the most comfortable thing. Without that, I have three options: put my feet on the coffee table, tuck my legs up on the couch under me, or have only my toes on the floor. The first I can only do for so long, so I usually do the second, which leads to neck and back pain.

When I had surgery on my other foot a few years ago, I spent several months in casts. I wore a sneaker on my other foot with a lift on it, so that my hips wouldn’t be misaligned. Part way into my recovery, I noticed something shocking: my neck and back pain were gone! I think it was for a few reasons:

First, I was sitting upright. I wasn’t leaning to the side or putting my feet up under me or next to my body. I couldn’t. I was mostly sitting with my feet up on the coffee table, to keep the injured foot elevated. Sometimes I sat upright, and with the extra few inches I had, my feet could now rest on the floor!

I also found that not having to reach up so far to get things out of kitchen cabinets made a big difference for my neck. It’s simply a matter of degree. We all reach up, but I had to reach up more, often over my head, and I guess those movements all added up.

On top of that, when I washed dishes, instead of hunching my shoulders as I reached up over the edge of the sink, then down into it, I was now simply reaching straight down. Wow!

Finally, I wasn’t driving. At all. I was recently driving a much taller friend, and she commented that my shoulders don’t go back against the seat when I drive. Well of course they don’t! How could they? I would need to have the steering wheel practically in my face in order to put my shoulders back. My physical therapist told me to use a lumbar support. I mentioned it would be annoying to adjust it every time I leaned forward and it slipped out of place. She said I shouldn’t be leaning forward. But she’s an average height. So doesn’t realize that I have to lean forward just a bit to reach the radio, heat, and air conditioning controls, not to mention seeing all sorts of awkward angles when I make turns or park.

This society is simply not designed for short people. A short friend told me about the joys of traveling to India, where the average height is lower than it is here in the United States. She said that she marveled at her ability to put her feet on the floor of the bus when she sat, and to reach items on shelves. It sounds marvelous!

Unfortunately, I live in a society designed for taller people. Until recently, I only thought of this as an inconvenience. I ask strangers to get things off of shelves in stores for me. I keep a step stool in every room of my house so I can reach items. I don’t use the top shelves in my kitchen cabinets because, even with the step stools, I can’t reach them. I can’t carry suitcases, tote bags, and other items, the way taller people do, because I can’t let my arms hang down; the items would drag on the floor. Instead, I need to raise these items up to clear the ground, and that’s hard and sometimes impossible.

Ok, I live with those inconveniences.

But now I have realized the pain it has caused me. And I resent that. Not that I can change it, but I resent it.

At home I will try to wear shoes with lifts, which is absurd, because I should be able to walk barefoot in my own home if that’s what I want to do. But there are no solutions to driving, sitting, and the myriad other ways that our society is causing me additional pain, simply because I am short.

Advertisements

How dare insurance not cover my specialists

March 27, 2018

24 years. If I’m remembering correctly, I have had gastrointestinal problems for 24 years.

First it was ignored. I didn’t think to tell anyone. And I didn’t know that diarrhea wasn’t normal, that not pooping for days at a time wasn’t normal, that nausea and pain weren’t normal. So I suffered in silence.

Then I saw a doctor who wasn’t helpful. I drank prune juice for the constipation and that got me through the worse of it. Sort of.

Another doctor said I had IBS and gave me a prescription.

Years later I went off gluten, then a bunch of other foods. That helped a lot. The episodes that had been coming more frequently backed off. I no longer found myself in the fetal position from gastrointestinal pain 3-5 times a week. Now it was only 1-4 times a month. Only. Hmm.

The problem was, the episodes continued, and my emotional response to them got worse. I found myself thinking more and more often about how I would prefer death. I only thought that way in the middle of the episodes, when I am already in too much pain to seriously consider killing myself anyway, but still, that’s not good.

I never think about death when I have joint pain, even though that pain is much worse. There is something about the nausea that triggers these thoughts now.

Recently I had an episode that was especially bad. I called a friend and neighbor, who came right over. But even his dog, who he kindly brought, wasn’t enough to help me. I sobbed while curled up on the floor, unable to sit up, unable to think clearly, but knowing I needed to not be alone. Eventually the worst of it subsided. But it was enough.

After that, I finally decided to pay the money for the stool test that had been recommended to me. When I saw my doctor the next week, I was shocked to learn that the test was actually covered by insurance! Wow! I took it home, read the instructions, and realized I needed to go off of a couple of my supplements for 2 weeks before I could take the test. So I waited. And waited. And finally it was time, but my joints were acting up and I just didn’t have the mental bandwidth to manage the pain and the test at the same time.

And then, finally, I took the test. For 3 days I scooped poop into a cup. Joy oh joy. But I did it.

It took time for the company to process the test. Then more time for my doctor to get the results, and for the results to be sent to me. But now, finally, months later, I have the results!

And I have no fucking clue what to do with them.

Some aspects of my gut are in balance, others are not. My doctor was honest: there was nothing he could suggest except to take a probiotic (which I already take, but which I had to stop taking for several weeks before the test) and so he wanted me to see someone with more expertise. I appreciate his honesty. That’s why I see him.

There’s just one problem. He recommended 2 different practitioners. And neither are covered by my insurance. At all. Not one penny.

So now I’m considering paying. The one who looks more promising based on her experience is $217 for the first visit and $188 for each followup. I have no idea how many visits I’ll need.

I have the money. And to be honest, if I’m going to spend money, this is a good thing to spend it on. I save as much as I can these days, but really, why am I saving it? To take care of myself. And if I can fix this problem, avoid these episodes from now on, why wouldn’t I do it?

So once again, I am going to pay out of pocket for my healthcare. My insurance is fabulous when it covers my care. But when it doesn’t, I question what is wrong with our system. No one would question that I need help. There is obviously something very wrong. I have limited my diet, tried pills, and followed doctors’ orders. And yet, I still have episodes that have me curled on the floor thinking that death might not be so bad. I need help. And I am so incredibly lucky that I can afford to pay for it.

What if I was one of the ones who couldn’t?


It takes skill to injury yourself the way I do

March 27, 2018

The other day I woke up to find that I had wrenched my shoulder in my sleep. It felt like it was partially dislocated. Sometimes it felt fine, and then I’d try to put on a shirt or reach for something and there’d be searing pain. I didn’t fall. I didn’t pick up something heavy. I slept wrong.

Everyone hurts themselves from time to time. A stubbed toe or a paper cut are the hazards of daily life. No big deal. But then there’s this other level that shows up when your body is out of whack. Being out of whack makes me more prone to these kinds of injuries, and sometimes they make no sense.

Like the time I wiggled my toes and injured a tendon. That was a month ago. It still hurts.

I’m skilled, I tell you. Totally skilled. I mean, it’s not the average person who could give themselves a long term toe tendon injury, with daily pain, just by wiggling their toes!

And do I go to the doctor for any of these injuries? No. Of course not. Because I’d be going All. The. Time!

Don’t get me wrong. I do take big things seriously. When I dropped a chef’s knife on my foot a couple years ago, I went to the emergency room for stitches, and later had surgery.

But no, I don’t see a doctor for every injury. Just like I don’t see a doctor for every new gastrointestinal symptom or new pain or new type of fatigue. What’s the point?

So I’m waiting these out, hoping they’ll eventually go away on their own. They often do. Like the time I finally went to the doctor for the unmistakable nerve pain, to be told I had a pinched nerve and should go to physical therapy. I didn’t have time. I asked if not going would cause long term damage. She said no. So I didn’t go. Eventually it fixed itself. If it hadn’t, I’d have gone.

So many of us have far too many medical issues already, so we try to ignore the little ones. But it sure would be easier to ignore them if we weren’t so skilled at creating new ones constantly!


Wanting and despising pity

February 17, 2018

I’ve been off my feet for the last week, more or less. Some days I could barely hobble around my apartment, even with crutches or a cane. Other days I could walk around the apartment fine, but putting on shoes was incredibly painful. This doesn’t happen often, but it’s happened many times over the last 13 years.

The difference is that this time, there are new people in my life who aren’t familiar with it.

More than once, a neighbor, a friend, and my new girlfriend all noticed me using crutches or limping, and they offered sympathy. Some were clearly pitying me as well.

Most days I despise pity. Instead of pity, I wish people would offer sympathy. And I wish they would do things to help. Hold open a door. Don’t come near me when they’re sick. Call their legislators and ask them to vote against the new bill that guts the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). (Seriously, call them! The bill is described here and you can find your senator’s contact info here.) Those things are helpful. But not pity. Pity sucks, and it’s dehumanizing. It means they’re seeing me as a set of symptoms instead of as a whole person.

And let’s be honest, we are taught by society that we shouldn’t like pity. We should be strong and resilient, blah blah blah.

But some days, that’s just how I feel. Some days, life sucks and I want more than sympathy, I want pity! Like when my feet hurt so badly I can barely hobble to the bathroom. Like when the pain is so bad, I can’t even wear socks. Like when I have to cancel plans so that I can stay home and feel like crap. Sympathy is good. Usually that’s enough. But every now and then, when I’m feeling especially sorry for myself, I also want pity from others.

Now here’s the thing: I talk to people about being in pain. Because I’m in pain. Every day. It’s a part of my life. I don’t dwell on it, and I only complain on the worse days, but I mention it a lot. And sometimes, people offer pity, even though that’s not at all what I’m looking for. And I hate it.

Then again, sometimes I bring it up because I DO want some sort of acknowledgement. I hate to admit it, but it’s true. Sometimes, I want people to know I’m in pain, to feel bad about it, to offer me some sympathy, and maybe to offer help with something I struggle with.

It’s a hard line to toe. I want to be able to say that I never want to mention it, I want it to be ignored, I want to be treated like everyone else. I want to say that, but it’s not true. Because the truth is, I’m human. And sometimes we humans want a little sympathy and support. Some days we even want pity!

Like I said before, society tells us we shouldn’t want pity. We should be strong and inspirational. Others should be able to point to us and say, “Look how amazing she is! If she can do what she does despite her health problems, I have no reason to complain.” Talk about dehumanizing! I’m a real person. I’m a whole person. I laugh and cry, feel optimistic and pessimistic, go out with friends and stay home feeling sick, do laundry and errands and cooking and other mundane chores. I’m more than a set of symptoms. I have feelings.

And yes, sometimes those feelings lead me to wanting pity.

I’m not proud of that, but I’m not going to be ashamed of it anymore, either.

I don’t live in the land of pity. I know that would not be healthy for me. But if a few days here and there I feel this way, what’s so wrong with that? I can’t compel someone to pity me. More than that, I know I’d be pissed if a bunch of people started doing it. But if for a few days I’d like my mother or a friend to pity me a bit, to offer condolences for what I’m dealing with, then so be it!

I won’t ask for pity. And most days I will still despise it. But if every now and then I want it, that’s ok.

Is it just me? Do you ever feel this way? Do you feel guilty for wanting pity? How do you handle it? Please share in the comments!


Please don’t take away my physical therapy

January 25, 2018

For most of my life, my posture has been lousy. My shoulders hunch forward, I never sit with my legs down properly (in large part because I’m very short, and I can’t comfortably sit that way, since my feet won’t be flat on the floor), and of course, there’s the scoliosis. Two different forms for scoliosis, actually. Thanks to all of that, and a doctor who majorly screwed up (she measured my legs wrong, and for years I wore a lift on the WRONG FOOT!) I have a lot of neck and back pain. And that’s even before you consider my mis-aligned kneecaps, which have worn away most of the cartiladge on the outer sides of my knees.

So you won’t be surprised to learn that I have been in physical therapy for neck and back pain a bunch of times over the years. I’m doing it now, too. But this time it’s really helping. Probably because I’m not getting cut off after a few short months, like all of the previous times.

If you’ve ever done physical therapy, I’m guessing this will sound familiar. I would go in 1-2 times per week for a few months, be given exercises to do at home each time, and then at the end, told that if I go home and do the exercises, I’ll be fine. And when I wasn’t fine, when I came back for more help, I was treated like I failed.

And yes, I admit that I wasn’t as consistent with the exercises as I should have been. But even so, it felt like something else was going on.

That brings us to 2017 when, for the first time in my life, I went to physical therapy appointments for the entire year. Sometimes I would go 2 or 3 weeks in a row. Sometimes I would miss 2-3 weeks. But always, I went back. In between, I did my exercises at home. Sometimes I was consistent and sometimes I wasn’t, but I always tried.

And it helped. A lot! So you can imagine my disappointment when I went to physical therapy yesterday to be told that Medicare has lowered its coverage limit.

Oh boy.

On the bright side, this might not effect me. She had checked and last year I would have just squeaked by under the 2018 limit. Still, it’s disconcerting. We will need to be careful.

We talked about having me come in less often. Or maybe skipping a few weeks here and there. Or maybe coming in for shorter appointments, since the limit is on the dollar amount covered, not the number of visits.

Not for the first time (not even the only time that day!) I came up against the problem of having to manage my health in the face of insurance limits.

On the one hand, this is totally fair. After all, they need to set limits, right? On the other hand, this is my health, and isn’t the whole point of paying into the system so that it will cover me when I need it to? What good is it if it won’t. I’m not the cheapest person on the insurance’s rolls, but I’m far from the most expensive. And damn it, I want my physical therapy! Without physical therapy, my pain and posture will get worse and that will harm me in a lot of other ways, limiting my ability to work, meaning I will need even more benefits.

After all, I am losing a bunch of my benefits this year (yeah, that’s a topic for another post) because I earned more last year. Don’t they want to keep me off those benefits? They should want me to be healthy, if only for financial reasons. They should consider that more physical therapy will actually save the system money in the long run.

But no one worries about that. They certainly don’t worry about the human being behind the numbers. The human being who simply wants to be in less pain, who wants to stick with the thing that works, who tries so hard to feel better every single day.

My physical therapist warned me that Medicare changes its limits every year, and she implied that future changes would not be in my favor. I am not surprised. But I am horribly, sadly, painfully disappointed.


Taking a real day off

December 27, 2017

There’s this interesting thing that happens when you have daily symptoms.

Back when I worked, I would have these things called “days off.” These were days that I didn’t work. Sometimes I would hang out with friends. Sometimes I would do something fun on my own. Sometimes I would use the time to clean the apartment or run errands. Generally one day each weekend would be a day to just hang out and relax: no errands, no chores. It was great!

2017-12-18 21.45.49

Now that I’m too sick to work, I don’t go to a job, so every day is supposedly a “day off.” The thing is, I still need to take care of my health, run errands, clean the apartment, and all that other stuff. That became my job. And I try to do a little work to earn some money here and there. That’s my job, too.

The big difference is, there are no set hours. And I never know which days I’ll feel up to running errands or earning some money or any of that other stuff. So that means I now have 2 kinds of days:

  • Days that I feel like crap.
  • Days that I try to be “productive” and get stuff done.

Here’s the problem: that means I never take a “day off.” Every day is either a day to feel sick and do nothing by try to take care of my health, or a day to wash dishes, cook meals, go grocery shopping, do some work that earns money, or see a doctor. Sometimes those days might include seeing friends, which is awesome. I love hanging out with friends! The problem is, in my current state, hanging out with a friend is a fun day, but not the kind of “day off” that I really need to rest up.

I don’t rest up, because any time I feel halfway decent, I feel like I have to take advantage of that by doing as much stuff as possible (without overdoing it, of course.)

I’ve been feeling burned out lately. I know I’ve been doing too much, but when I try to take a “day off,” I fail. I end up doing laundry or trying to work. Half the time, I end up wasting time by scrolling through Facebook or something else unhelpful. Then I don’t get stuff done OR get any rest. It’s just not working.

Until this week.

This is an odd week. You see, just about everyone takes off Christmas from work. A lot of folks take off the entire week from their jobs. Some stay home and others visit family. But for me, Christmas isn’t a holiday. A couple weeks ago I did a small Chanukah lunch celebration with my family, and that was it. I baked cookies for it. Very simple.

And then this week, the world around me got quiet. The Jews were going out for Chinese food and movies (I did go out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve, actually,) the Christians were celebrating Christmas, and just about everyone else seemed to be busy with something family-related.

As I was setting up my to-do list for the week, like I always do, something occurred to me: there was almost nothing on that list that had to happen this week. Sure, it would be nice to get that stuff done, but the list never ends, and those things can happen next week instead. So what if I didn’t do them? What then?

As the light bulb went off over my head cartoon-style, I felt relaxed. It could all wait!

I have been dog sitting since the week before Christmas. (That’s him in the photo.) I have watched this guy a couple times in the past, but having him for a week and a half was different. I fell in love. I am so sad that he’s going home in a few hours! It turns out, he was the perfect companion this week.

Normally Christmas is a lonely day for me. I spend a lot of time alone, but it feels different when everyone I know is busy doing fun things and I’m not. But not this year!

This year, Christmas was the day that I FINALLY took a day off. I started it off wrong. I tried to “get stuff done.” I found myself scrolling through Facebook to procrastinate. Then I realized that it was the perfect day to just rest. Not because I was too sick to get off the couch, but because I just needed the rest.

I settled on the couch. I had my knitting in my lap and an adorable pup curled up against my leg. I watched hours of tv. I ate leftovers (no cooking!) I let the dishes sit. It was the first time in ages that I felt up to washing dishes, but let them sit anyway. How decadent!

I left the apartment only to walk the dog. Thankfully, he was happy to stay in most of the day. We snuggled and played. I watched more tv. I did more knitting.

And by the end of the day, I felt relaxed in a way that I haven’t in a long time.

Finally.

My challenge now will be to do this more than once a year in 2018. In fact, my goal is to do it to a small extent once a week. That will be one day a week that I do something fun just for me. No stress. No to do list. If I feel up to going out and taking a walk, that’s ok. But at least once every other month I will have a day at home to rest and relax and not do anything more than knit, read, and watch tv. That’s my goal.

I know I’m not the only one who struggles with this. I’ve spoken to friends with chronic illness who struggle in the same way: when they feel good, they feel an obligation to do as much as they can. And that means never having a “day off” to just do their own thing. I feel like there must be a solution out there for this problem, but I have no idea what it is.

So my questions to you are, do you ever feel this way? Have you found a way to take regular days off that works for you? And if so, what is it? Please share it in the comments because I would love to learn from you!


My nightmare came true

December 19, 2017

I have had the dream more times than I can count. I’m sitting at a table, talking and laughing with the people there. The people vary, but it’s always some combination of my family and friends. Sometimes my grandparents are there, which is nice, since they are no longer with us and I miss them.

As everyone laughs over the meal, food is passed around. Someone hands me a piece of bread or a cracker, and I eat it. I immediately realize what I just did – I ate gluten! I’m horrified. Then I wake up in a panic.

It takes some times for my racing heart to slow down, to remember that it was only a bad dream, that I did really eat gluten.

bread-534574_1920

These kinds of nightmares make sense. After all, I spend a lot of my life stressing out over food, worrying that I might accidentally eat something that will make me very sick, and knowing it’s easy to miss that thing. Still, it’s not like I would eat a cracker!

I went gluten free 6 years ago. At least, I thought I did. That’s when I stopped eating obvious gluten. It took years to eliminate the final traces of it from my life. Gluten hides everywhere, it seems, and I had never thought it check lemon juice, chapstick, cutting boards, or hand lotion. I certainly hadn’t thought about what my date had had to eat or drink before I kissed them, but it turns out, that is enough exposure to get me sick, too. But eventually, I figured those out.

Finally, thankfully, gluten was gone. And I felt so much better!

Then in September, I got sick. Really sick. I’ll save you the gory details, since they aren’t relevant. My naturopath had told me that, thanks to my lack of gluten exposure, it could take my body up to 48 hours to react. When I first got sick, I couldn’t figure it out – I had only eaten my own cooking all day. Then I remembered what my naturopath said, so I looked at the calendar. And I knew.

2 days earlier, I had eaten dinner in the house of someone I trusted to make a gluten free meal. We had discussed every ingredient, so I knew I would be fine. There was only 1 thing to avoid: the bread. Everyone careful, even passing the bread back and forth on the other side of the table, so crumbs wouldn’t land on my plate.

Later, I was helping to clear the table between dinner and dessert. Passing back to the dining room, I grabbed some grapes off the plate that had been put out. After I swallowed, someone mentioned that the little kid in attendance had taken a huge handful of grapes, realized it was too many, and put some back. The little kid who had been eating bread with his hands. Yikes! But when I felt fine that day I forgot all about it. I remembered only 2 days later.

I was really sick for 3 or 4 days, and it was a full 2 weeks before I could eat normally again. Just from that tiny bit of exposure, probably no more than a crumb.

And that’s what makes this week’s living nightmare so horrible.

There I was, enjoying a meal at the same home, knowing everything was fine. I had checked each ingredient. The soup was great. So was the kugel. I was enjoying the salad. She had made a salad bar, putting out each vegetable in its own bowl, along with chopped up eggs, sliced turkey, and more, so we could take whatever we wanted. I ate one rolled up piece of sliced turkey, and the second I swallowed, it hit me.

“Is this gluten free?”
“Of course it is, it’s turkey.”

And I knew. I spent some time crying, before finally calming down enough to come back. But I was no longer laughing and talking with the group. I was thinking about how I would handle this week.

She had bought the turkey at the supermarket’s deli counter. Maybe it was gluten free, maybe not. There’s no way to know. I know from my own research that most deli counter turkey is not gluten free, but maybe she bought one of the few that are? Still, she didn’t know to have the deli worker clean the machine first, to avoid contamination.

This was the one home where I always felt safe eating, and even there, she wasn’t careful enough. Can I never eat outside of my own home again? It’s so frustrating!

But that’s a long term problem for another day. In the meantime, there’s the question of whether or not I got glutened. There’s nothing to do but wait. Since it took 2 days for symptoms to appear last time, I’m in limbo. I haven’t gotten sick yet, but that doesn’t mean I won’t.

So I did the only thing I could think to do: I stopped eating. For the past 2 days, I have consumed only a few pieces of gluten free bread with some coconut oil, a little plain white rice, apple juice, and water. That’s it. Because not eating much for 2 days won’t kill me, but if I was glutened, and I get sick, I will be VERY glad I didn’t eat much. At least, that’s what I’m guessing.

The truth is, I don’t know. Because, despite the nightmares, this has never happened before. In 6 years, this is the first time I have had any idea I might have been glutened before I experienced any symptoms.

The psychological impact is rough. Especially because all I can do now is wait. By tomorrow I will know. My nightmare has already come true. Now I am waiting to see how bad it will be.


%d bloggers like this: